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A Lost Decade of Beer Writing?

An article published this week by The Atlantic rings an alarm over the impermanence of online-only content.

In ‘Raiders of the Lost Web‘ Adrienne LaFrance uses as a case study an early venture in turning a piece of narrative journalism into a multimedia ‘web experience’:

[Kevin] Vaughan spent the better part of a year reporting the story. And in that time, a team of web designers, photographers, videographers, and engineers worked with him to build a web experience around the series—the first time the [Rocky Mountain News] had built something digital of this scope… It was worth the effort… In 2008, Vaughan was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing for the series. The next year, the Rocky folded. And in the months that followed, the website slowly broke apart. One day, without warning, “The Crossing” evaporated from the Internet.

In the (less important) world of beer much of value has also been lost, in part or in full, or lingers on only in fragile form via the Wayback Machine web archiving project.

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What Meantime Means to Us

As well as its significance in the ‘rebirth of British beer’, Alastair Hook’s Meantime Brewery has been important to us on a personal level.

Meantime taught us that lager wasn’t just lager: tasting the range side by side, we could tell that ‘Cologne-style’ was not the same as Helles, which was definitely different to Golden Beer.  They were subtle, but distinctive.

Meantime put Vienna-style lager and Kölsch in Sainsburys supermarkets where we could buy four bottles for £4 and we turned up at many parties and barbecues with those packs under our arms c.2004.

Having read about porter, we wanted to taste it, but there didn’t seem to be many around a decade ago; Meantime fixed that, too. And their big 7.5% IPA was among the first we tasted that gave us a glimpse of what had people so excited about US takes on the style, and so dismissive of Greene King’s — it was boozy, fruity, juicy and bold.

The Union, Meantime’s brewery tap in Greenwich, was the first British pub where we really noticed beer being treated with respect. Half pints came in stemmed tulip glasses, bottles were served in snifters, and no-one seemed to care how much or how little you drank as long as you enjoyed it. We crossed London to get there, time and time again, and there was always something new to try. It was the world of Michael Jackson’s books brought to life.

In recent years, however, our ardour has faded. The brewery’s focus seems to have moved from obscure sub-styles to London Lager (oh, so lager is just lager after all?), Pale Ale and Yakima Red — beers that want so badly to be accepted everywhere that they blend into the banquettes. Alastair Hook has always been obsessed with consistency and control — he is passionate and eloquent on the subject — but perhaps, in recent years, Meantime has too often crossed the fine line between clean and bland? (We’re not sure, to be honest, that they are an upgrade from the mainstream as Pete Brown argues here, though we know what he means.)

This isn’t about demanding obscurity or ‘extremes’: if we want US-style pale ale, we buy Sierra Nevada. Porter? Sam Smith’s or Anchor. Big IPA? BrewDog Punk, or the ubiquitous Goose Island IPA, at £2 a bottle. If we want a British-brewed version of a classic German style, we increasingly find ourselves looking to Thornbridge. (Where the brewing team is led by Rob Lovatt, formerly of… Meantime.)

The acquisition of Meantime by SAB Miller isn’t catastrophic, just another step in the direction they’ve been travelling for some time. We’ll always have a soft spot for Meantime, and will continue to make pilgrimages to Greenwich, where the draught lager can still be transcendent.

100 Words: Describing Brettanomyces

The sacred texts told us Brettanomyces had a ‘horse blanket’ or ‘barnyard’ aroma. It is, they said, ‘sweaty’, ‘leathery’, ‘mousy’.

But none of that worked for us and we couldn’t spot Brett unless we’d been cued to expect it.

We know what the experts are getting at with the animal comparisons — earthy, musky, funky, right? — but it’s like trying to describe the colour red by saying ‘Purplish, but also orangey.’ Brett is Brett, and nothing else.

We eventually cracked it by drinking a lot of Orval, and ‘Orval-like’ is the most useful descriptor for Brett character we’ve yet discovered.

Any other suggestions?

Main image from the BBC website.

100 Words: Not The Same Again

Mr Turner is right‘The biggest influence in whether someone has a second pint is the quality of their first.’ 

Sometimes, you mean to have one beer and end up having four because you don’t know when you’ll next taste something so perfect.

More often, though, you have one and, though there’s nothing wrong with it, not that you could complain about, not that you can put your finger on, that awkward first date is as far as it ever goes.

Not ordering a second pint is just about the most passive protest a customer can make.

The Great Craft Beer Swindle

With news from the US of yet another takeover of a much-loved local craft brewer by a multinational, how long can it be before we see the same thing happen in the UK?

On Saturday, walking up a hill in the middle of nowhere with barely any mobile reception, we attempted to continue a conversation on Twitter on this subject — a mistake, with hindsight. This post is an attempt to set out our thoughts a bit more clearly, though they’re still just ponderings.

Britain’s ‘craft revolution’ (if you accept that we had one) began either in around 2005 (Thornbridge, BrewDog), or in the early 1970s with the emergence of CAMRA and microbreweries (Selby, Litchborough, Godson, &c.), depending on how you look at it.

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